Press Releases
City of New Westminster and Fraser Health launch new toxic drug response program
Posted On:
March 20, 2024

New Westminster, B.C. – The City of New Westminster and Fraser Health have launched a new collaborative toxic drug response program this week in an effort to proactively reduce toxic drug poisonings and the risk of a fatality in the event one occurs. The Second Responder Program team is comprised of a New Westminster firefighter and two members of Fraser Health’s Overdose Outreach Team which includes social workers, registered nurses and harm reduction workers.

“Toxic drugs continue to devastate families and communities across the country and New Westminster is no exception,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and MLA for New Westminster. “The launch of the Second Responder Program in New Westminster is a proven program that will help more people who are at risk of overdose or other harms from toxic drugs by teaching them about safety, giving them supplies, and helping them get connected to the health care system. This program is a new creative approach to meeting people where they are at, so we can save more lives and help our communities.”

More than 2,500 lives were lost in 2023 in B.C. to toxic drug poisoning. New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services responded to over 700 toxic drug poisoning calls in 2023, and the city suffered 38 toxic drug fatalities. Statistics show the majority of toxic drug deaths in the Lower Mainland occur in private residences while people are using alone. The Second Responder program aims to get ahead of these toxic drug events in an effort to reduce the demand for emergency first responder services.

“The City of New Westminster is committed to enhancing public health and safety through compassionate, people-centered services for all residents, including ensuring the most vulnerable can connect with life-saving services,” said Mayor Patrick Johnstone. “We need new approaches to the ongoing toxic drug crisis, and our firefighters are eager to turn a respond-and-resuscitate role into a more proactive one that will both save lives and effect positive change.”

Following a toxic drug event, the Second Responder team will contact the individual for consent to meet with them. A firefighter along with the Fraser Health Overdose Outreach Team will meet them in the community or at their home and offer supports such as education, harm reduction supplies, and assistance with navigating the health care system. Involved family members and friends can also receive education, resources and training for Naloxone administration.

“By meeting people at or near their home with understanding and empathy, our team will offer guidance to patients as they navigate various avenues toward healthier and safer living, whether with or without substance use,” said Dr. John Harding, Public Health Physician at Fraser Health. “This approach builds trust and helps us keep people engaged so we can support them with programs and services long after they have gone through this difficult experience.

Surrey’s own Second Responder Program, launched in 2019, has successfully connected people who use substances with support and health services. Individuals who have had the opportunity to meet with the Surrey Fire Service and Fraser Health staff following a toxic drug poisoning have benefited from increased connections to health services. Furthermore, they have also seen an increase in engagement and support in their care from friends and family.

“Forming these care connections with people in the comfort of their community and homes will help improve their access to our vast array of regional and community-based substance use services,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO, Fraser Health. “This innovative program provides compassionate, personalized support directly to those in need, improving care outcomes and reducing the risk of toxic drug poisoning.”

Learn more about Fraser Health’s Overdose Outreach Team here and their overdose prevention and response services here.

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Media Contact:

Brad Davie
Deputy Fire Chief
City of New Westminster
604-830-6950 |

Fraser Health Media Line
604-613-0794 |